EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – January 16, 2015 – An acclaimed battery design for large-scale energy storage has cleared an important hurdle: Independent tests now confirm that it holds promise as a technology that one day could store power for homes, businesses, neighborhoods and ultimately the electric grid.
In January 2014, a team of researchers from Harvard University announced the discovery of an inexpensive, high-density battery design for economical grid energy storage. The research, published in Nature, details a battery based around an organic molecule called a quinone. Such a battery presents a radical departure for an energy marketplace seeking viable ways to store large-scale solar energy when the sun is not shining and wind energy when the wind is not blowing. According to a recent study by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab, widespread grid energy storage is necessary to achieve an electric grid powered by 20% or more renewables.
The electrochemical flow battery design is among the most promising for renewable energy storage. Flow batteries store energy in chemical fluids contained in external tanks – as with fuel cells – instead of within the battery container itself. The two main components – the electrochemical conversion hardware and the chemical storage tanks – may be independently sized. Thus, the amount of energy that can be stored is limited only by the size of the tanks. The design permits larger amounts of energy to be stored at lower cost than with traditional batteries.
Industry analysts project huge growth for leading flow battery technologies in the field. According to a 2014 study by Lux Research, grid scale energy storage is projected to be a $2.8 billion market by 2020.
The Harvard quinone flow battery garnered worldwide media attention in early 2014 for its organic chemistry (similar to compounds found in rhubarb) and its abundant and inexpensive non-metal electrolytes. Today, a team of developers at Sustainable Innovations, in partnership with the Harvard scientists, have replicated the Harvard results on their own quinone-based battery. This verification, along with funding from ARPA-E, cleared the way for a new round of designs and tests to scale from the Harvard experiment to a prototype 3 kilowatt battery.
“The Harvard work is an exciting discovery, and we have confirmed their results in our own tests,” said Sustainable Innovations CEO Trent Molter, Ph.D of the original quinone battery experiment and Sustainable Innovations’ collaborative industrial partnership with the Harvard group. “What we are doing now is incorporating the quinone chemistry into our proprietary electrochemical cell hardware and expanding the scale.”